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Diane Abbott suspended as Labour MP after racism letter


Diane Abbott has been suspended as a Labour MP pending an investigation into a letter she wrote about racism for the Observer, the party has said.

The politician said “many types of white people with points of difference” can experience prejudice, in a letter published on Sunday.

But they are not subject to racism “all their lives”, she said.

She later tweeted to say she was withdrawing her remarks and apologised “for any anguish caused”.

Labour said the comments were “deeply offensive and wrong”.

The BBC has approached Ms Abbott for comment.

In the letter, she wrote that Irish, Jewish and Traveller people “undoubtedly experience prejudice”, which she said is “similar to racism”.

She continued: “It is true that many types of white people with points of difference, such as redheads, can experience this prejudice.

“But they are not all their lives subject to racism.

“In pre-civil rights America, Irish people, Jewish people and Travellers were not required to sit at the back of the bus.

“In apartheid South Africa, these groups were allowed to vote.

“And at the height of slavery, there were no white-seeming people manacled on the slave ships.”

She had been responding to a comment piece in the Guardian questioning the view that racism “only affects people of colour”.

Ms Abbott’s letter prompted a backlash, including from the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which described it as “disgraceful” and her apology “entirely unconvincing”.

The group had urged Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to remove the whip.

In her apology, the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington said “errors” arose in an initial draft that was sent.

She continued: “But there is no excuse, and I wish to apologise for any anguish caused.

“Racism takes many forms, and it is completely undeniable that Jewish people have suffered its monstrous effects, as have Irish people, Travellers and many others.”

Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge, who is Jewish, called the letter “deeply offensive and deeply distressing”.

She backed the suspension of the whip, tweeting: “No excuses. No delays.

“The comments will be investigated and she has been immediately suspended.”

The Jewish Labour Movement – an organisation of Labour-supporting Jewish members – said it “regretfully” supported the party’s decision.

It tweeted: “Diane Abbott is one of the most respected people in the Labour Party as an activist who overcame racism and prejudice to become Britain’s first black woman MP.

“We should be unified in our struggle against racism, not divided against one another.

“A hierarchy of racism only divides communities and assists the racists.”

Suspending the whip means Ms Abbott will not be allowed to represent Labour in the House of Commons, where she will now sit as an independent MP.

A Labour Party spokesman said: “The Labour Party completely condemns these comments, which are deeply offensive and wrong.

“The chief whip has suspended the Labour whip from Diane Abbott pending an investigation.”

The party declined to comment on when an investigation would begin, or who would lead it.

The recent history of the Labour party means that any comment which seems to downplay the experiences of Jewish people is toxic, especially when it comes from a prominent figure associated with the Jeremy Corbyn era.

Under his leadership, concerns that antisemitism was on the rise culminated in the party being investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and being found to have acted unlawfully.

Mr Corbyn is still suspended from the parliamentary party after comments he made that suggested the scale of the problem had been overstated.

Sir Keir promised tough action to “root out” antisemitism when he became leader in 2020.

It took years before the EHRC said in February that it was now satisfied with Labour’s action on the issue.